David Gaughran

What’s Next for Authors United?

22 October 2014

From David Gaughran:

Authors United has been spectacularly unsuccessful in its supposed mission to get Amazon and Hachette to agree a deal.

By contrast, Simon & Schuster was able to agree a deal in just three weeks – without the intervention of Douglas Preston’s group.

To be fair, Authors United has been very good at one thing: getting media attention.

Perhaps it’s time for Douglas Preston to widen the aims of the group and start campaigning on issues which actually matter.

It would be great if Authors United could get the media to focus on any of these problems. Alternatively, Authors United could continue to focus on propping up a broken system which only rewards those at the very top (like Douglas Preston, surprisingly).

1. Diversity in Publishing

Publishing is very white and very middle class. And, at the upper echelons, often very male too. One of the many knock on effects of this is that traditionally published books tend to be very white and very middle class. Publishing claims to want more diverse books from more diverse voices, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until more people from diverse backgrounds are representing authors and acquiring books.

2. One-sided Contracts

Contracts offered by publishers can contain awful clauses. Option clauses which unfairly tie authors’ hands. Reversion clauses which are meaningless in a POD/digital world where books never go out of print. And non-compete clauses which can pointlessly damage a writer’s career.

Some say that a good agent will negotiate those out. My experience of talking to fellow writers is that it’s often the case that even good agents can fail to negotiate these out because they don’t want to damage their relationship with the publisher. But, really, these clauses should form no part of any boilerplate. Agents shouldn’t have to negotiate them out because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. And the upsurge in digital-first imprints taking unagented submissions means this is a growing problem.

. . . .

6. Author Exploitation

The most unwelcome development in the last few years has been the huge increase in author exploitation. What’s particularly distasteful about this phenomenon is that the most predatory companies are not the fly-by-night operations of the past, but huge corporations exploiting writers on a massive scale. Oh and they are owned and operated by traditional publishers, happy to profit from this crap.

Penguin Random House bought Author Solutions two years ago and, instead of cleaning house, it has aggressively expanded its scammy operations. HarperCollins, Harlequin, Simon & Schuster, and Hay House are just some of the traditional publishers with exploitative vanity press operations being run on their behalf by Author Solutions. This is completely unacceptable. And instead of getting worked up about what Amazon might do in the future, I respectfully suggest that you should focus on what publishers are doing right now to authors.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to T.M. for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Building a Better Industry

4 October 2014

From David Gaughran:

Mike Shatzkin is confused. He can’t seem to understand why self-publishers spend so much time documenting the ills of the publishing industry.

Or, as Shatzkin puts it in one of his typically snappy headlines, “The motivation of the publisher-bashing commentariat is what I cannot figure out.”

. . .

So, why do we care? Is Jamie Ford correct when he claims that we are motivated by bitterness? Was he right when he said that we’re all “people who’ve been told that their baby is ugly”?

. . .

Here are my motivations, in no particular order:

1. I have several friends who are either hybrid authors or traditionally published. I want publishers to reform so that my friends are treated better.

2. Like many, I have a sense of fellow feeling with my colleagues – possibly because writers have been historically treated so poorly (or maybe because I’m a human being who can occasionally rise above considerations of narrow self-interest) – and I want conditions to improve for all authors, however they decide to publish their work.

. . .

5. Some of the things that publishers get up to are simply unconscionable, from using corporate sleight-of-hand to screw authors out of royalties, to profiting from predatory vanity imprints. It’s certainly not in my self-interest to speak up about this crap, but I hate to see writers suffer and cheats prosper, and I can’t abide the hypocrisy/stupidity of FREAKING OUT about what Amazon might do in the future when publishers are doing this stuff today.

. . .

And if the negative criticism from the “publisher-bashing commentariat” outweighs the positive suggestions, I respectfully suggest that’s because it’s much harder to get people to consider an alternative approach if they don’t accept there is a problem in the first place.

DRM doesn’t “prevent piracy,” it causes it. Higher pricing doesn’t “protect the literary way of life,” it is killing it. Writers aren’t being “treated as true partners in the publishing process,” they are being exploited.

Full article and relevant links here.

Link to David Gaughran’s books

Doin’-my-bit-for-PG guest post by Bridget McKenna

Don’t Wait for Permission: Why Authors Should be Entrepreneurs

4 October 2014

From author and TPV rock star David Gaughran:

Joanna Penn (writing as JF Penn) has hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists with her fiction, but also has an extremely popular blog and podcast aimed at writers, as well as several non-fiction books.

I invited her along today to talk about her latest – Business For Authors: How To Be An Author Entrepreneur – in which Joanna provides excellent advice on ALL the ways that authors can monetize both their work and their knowledge/skills. And it’s especially useful for those who don’t fit exactly into the “write genre fiction as fast as possible” model.

……

Why are you so passionate about authors embracing the entrepreneurial side of things?

This site is all about empowering authors to choose themselves, to take their words out into the world and reach readers directly. It’s about the truly amazing opportunities that authors have when they take action on their dreams. I’m passionate about that too, and now I want to take it one step further.

At the very basic level, an entrepreneur creates value from ideas, which surely is the definition of an author! But more than that, an entrepreneurial author goes beyond just one book into the realm of running a viable business with their writing.

……

We create art. We manifest our ideas in the world in glorious creative ways, but to be entrepreneurial is to care about the business side as well as the creation. It’s about being excited to generate something new and original, but also being enthusiastic about how the book will reach customers as well as the financial side.

“Entrepreneurs don’t wait for permission”

They act, they experiment, they see what happens and then they pivot if necessary, adapting to the new situation. They are active, not passive, as protagonists are in the best stories. So writing and publishing are only some aspects of this new author life. To be entrepreneurial is to understand the rest of it and make conscious choices as to how you want to run your creative business.

……

Strategy is also something I’ve learned a lot about as I wrote this book. It’s as much about what you DON’T do, as what you do. As indies, we only have a certain amount of capacity. We have to make decisions about what we will spend our precious time on. Like many authors, I have a list of book ideas that I add to almost every day. I will never have the time to write everything I want to write. I have to choose, and having a strategy helps me. Here are some questions to consider in your strategy:

• What do I want to be known as in 5 years time? When people say my author name, what images, words and emotions will be evoked?

• Should I focus my books into one particular genre or sub-genre and try to dominate that? Or should I spread my bets and write across multiple genres and see what sticks?

• Should I write in a series and try to attract readers who want to binge read multiple books? Or should I write stand-alone books that will enable me to explore my creativity?

Read the rest here. It’s Dave, so ’nuff said.

You can find David’s books here, and Joanna’s books here.

~ Dan

Publishing Is Rotten To The Core

22 September 2014

From David Gaughran:

There is something seriously askew with the supposed values of the publishing business.

The most egregious behavior continually gets overlooked, ignored, and swept under the carpet, in favor of pursuing pet targets.

As always, I’m conscious of whose agenda this serves and why writers allow themselves to be used as pawns in this game.

Exhibit A: Harlequin

Amazon is regularly slated for the way it manages its tax affairs. I have written extensively about this before, but, in short, Amazon is using extremely common methods for minimizing its tax bills that are used by every major tech company (and many other multinational corporations too).

You can argue these loopholes should be closed (and I would agree), but these actions are legal. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the major publishers, and the global media conglomerates which own them, are doing the exact same thing.

Take Harlequin, for example. Harlequin doesn’t just use these corporate structures to minimize its tax bill. It has also used them to reduce the 50% digital royalty rate agreed in some of its contracts to a paltry 3%. Harlequin is facing a class action suit because of this, but you won’t find coverage of that in the news media or outrage about Harlequin’s actions among publishing professionals.

. . . .

Exhibit B: The New York Times

I have a fun game you can play! Well, it’s more of a thought experiment and it goes something like this: try and construct a hypothetical scenario where the New York Timeswrites an article that is critical of a major publisher. Seriously, give it a shot. It’s probably harder than you think, as it would need to be something worse than price-fixing or exploiting authors on an industrial scale, subjects which the New York Times routinely ignores, or whitewashes.

It would also have to be worse than a publisher pretending it was a victim of the Nazis when, in reality, it secretly donated to the SS, used Jewish slave labor to publish hits like The Christmas Book of the Hitler Youth, and then refused to apologize in 2002 when caught lying about it!

That publisher is Bertelsmann, 51% owner of Penguin Random House. I guess being a global media conglomerate keeps the right stories on the front page and helps the wrong ones disappear.

. . . .

Rotten To The Core

Publishing likes to think of itself as a “moral” business with strong “values” but I think that’s complete bullshit. No industry with the smallest amount of ethics would permit a giant scam like Author Solutions to happen under its nose.

No industry with the tiniest modicum of respect for writers would keep quiet about Penguin Random House owning the biggest vanity press in the world. No industry with any sense of decency would look the other way when Simon & Schuster partners with Author Solutions, or when Harlequin and HarperCollins happily profit from the exploitation of writers with their own white-label vanity imprints.

The moral compass of publishing is completely broken and we can’t look to the media to hold them to account, because the media is parroting talking points from the major publishers.

We are the only ones who can push back against this crap, so the next time The Guardian publishes an Amazon hit piece, ask them why they have never covered the Author Solutions story.

. . . .

The next time the New York Times acts as an uncritical mouthpiece for a pro-publisher organization which has just spent $104,000 on a full-page spread, ask them why they don’t direct similar moral outrage towards publishers who are cheating writers out of contractually agreed royalties.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

UPDATE: PG has posted about the Harlequin class-action suit here, here and here

Let’s Get Digital – Second Edition Released

19 September 2014

David Gaughran has just released a second edition of Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should, a favorite of many visitors to The Passive Voice.

Here’s what he says about it:

I’m very excited to announce the release of the new updated and expanded 2nd edition of Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should.

If you purchased the old 1st edition of Digital, you can grab the 2nd edition for free (instructions below). You won’t actually be able to purchase the new edition from Amazon if you bought the old one, so please follow those instructions to get your free copy.

. . . .

This new updated 2nd edition now has more options for those on a tighter budget, teaches you how to get your book into print (and why that helps selling e-books), tells you why you should start a mailing list immediately, and shares the pros and cons of going exclusive with Amazon. And that’s just for starters…

Link to the rest of David’s discussion of the new edition at Let’s Get Digital

And here’s a link to buy Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should

The Industry View – Amazon vs Hachette

1 August 2014

From a Words with Jam interview with David Gaughran:

WWJ: This is not the first time a distributor and publisher have clashed. Why is Amazon v. Hachette attracting more interest than, for example, Barnes & Noble v. Simon & Schuster?

DG: Because it’s Amazon! It doesn’t matter that Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster had a similar dispute last year (without people losing their minds) because the currency of the internet is attention and a story on Amazon will guarantee more clicks than anything else. The spat between Amazon and Hachette is essentially a business dispute between a large corporation and a very large corporation, but the “industry” is attempting to depict it as a battle for the future of writing as a viable profession.

This allows them to tap into the fear that many writers have about the paradigm shift that’s underway. Hachette can’t come right out and say that it wants higher book prices (which is the result if they prevail in negotiations and take back control of pricing and/or restrict Amazon’s ability to discount), so instead we get a narrative of a rapacious corporation versus a plucky guardian of our literary heritage. Authors should adopt a little more scepticism towards what is a concerted PR campaign from a series of vested interests.

. . . .

WWJ: Accusations and emotions are running high, with commentators invoking everything from commercial suicide to predicting the death of literature. What’s your outlook?

DG: Fear is the most powerful tool if you want to manipulate public opinion. Emotions are running high because the publishing industry is being radically reshaped by the same disruptive forces that have transformed all sorts of industries from travel and insurance to newspapers and music. Change is scary, and the publishing industry is changing at light-speed. If you want a parallel with music, I think it’s akin to going from vinyl straight to MP3.

Publishers like Hachette have been doing everything possible to slow down the changeover from print to digital. It knows that self-publishers and small publishers are grabbing huge market share because large publishers don’t have a lock on digital distribution like they do with print. Once a reader goes from shopping in Waterstones to buying e-books from Amazon, that reader starts buying way more books that aren’t published by the biggest players. The response of large publishers to the digital revolution was to drag their feet on the digitization of backlist books, institute windowing for e-books (so they weren’t released at the same time as hardbacks), and engage in an illegal conspiracy to fix the price of e-books to keep prices artificially high – all of which is designed to slow down the switch to digital.

Hachette’s aim in these negotiations is to regain control of retail pricing and/or restrict Amazon’s ability to discount books. The net effect will be higher prices for readers, which in turn will slow down the transition to e-books. This buys Hachette time as it figures out this weird thing called the internet and how to talk to those strange people called readers – something they didn’t really have to do in a print world where its customers were booksellers.

I absolutely reject the notion that if Hachette fails to regain control of retail pricing and/or restrict Amazon’s ability to discount books that this will lead to some kind of disaster. I think that’s a regressive, zero-sum view of the marketplace which fails to grasp that books are in competition with all sorts of other forms of entertainment. I think lower prices are something that we should strive for as that grows the market – which benefits all writers (and readers).

. . . .

WWJ: Amazon’s hold on the market is described as a monopsony. If the UK had retained the Net Book Agreement [fixed price book agreement such as exist in France and Germany], would we now be playing on a fairer field?

DG: It’s quite revealing how traditional publishers cast envious eyes at the price-fixing/discount-restricting laws in places like France and Germany. It makes a mockery of any claim that they weren’t intending to fix e-book prices in America. The nostalgia with which the Net Book Agreement is viewed is equally illuminating. Such price-maintenance agreements are always presented in the media as a positive thing for the future of literature, but they are really about control. Publishers want to maintain e-book prices at a higher level so they can slow the changeover to digital as much as possible. Let’s be very clear about this: anyone campaigning for these kinds of laws or agreements is campaigning for higher book prices – something I absolutely oppose and something I think would be an incredibly regressive step.

With regard to the UK in particular, the problem, in my view, wasn’t getting rid of the Net Book Agreement, but the practice of publishers offering sweetheart deals to chains and supermarkets, making it next-to-impossible for independent bookstores to compete.

Link to the rest at Words with Jam

Kindle Unlimited: The Key Questions

21 July 2014

From David Gaughran:

Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited on Friday, giving self-publishers a big decision to make.

The long-rumored subscription service will allow users to download unlimited books for $9.99 a month, and reader reaction has been, from what I can see, overwhelmingly positive – especially because they will be able to test the service with a month’s free trial. Writers have been a little more cautious, for all sorts of reasons I’ll try and tease out below.

The main stumbling block for self-publishers is that participation in Kindle Unlimited is restricted to titles enrolled in KDP Select – Amazon’s program which offers various additional marketing tools in exchange for exclusivity. Author compensation will be similar to borrows under the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – a percentage of money from a fixed pool. The only real twist is that payment will be triggered when 10% of downloaded books have been read.

. . . .

How much will we be paid for borrows?

There’s actually no way of knowing right now. Authors had the same questions when KDP Select launched in December 2011, and I remember estimates ranging from $0.30 to $2. In the time since, borrow payouts have averaged $2.19. It seemed like Amazon was always keen to keep the rate around $2, adding and subtracting money from the fixed pool each month to keep things at that level.

It could be the case that KDP Select and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library was (at least in part) a giant experiment paving the way for Kindle Unlimited, and it could also be the case that Amazon will maintain borrow rates at around $2, but we can’t be sure until it happens. It’s possible that Amazon could let borrow rates slip and hope that increased volume makes up for it. We’ll have to wait and see.

Will this cannibalize paid sales?

This is the big question. It seems safe to assume that paid sales will be cannibalized to some extent, but Kindle Unlimited could also grow the pie. We don’t know how popular it will be with readers, but I’d be very surprised if it was a flop.

So which kind of readers will it attract? Will it be all the bargain-hunting readers that swamp sites like BookBub and make limited-time 99c sales so effective? Will it gobble up the freehunters that make permafree such a winning strategy? Will it wean the power readers off box-sets?

. . . .

Don’t Oyster and Scribd have better terms for writers?

For most self-publishers, the only way into Oyster and Scribd is via a distribution service like Smashwords, where you will get 60% of your list price every time that 10% of your book is read. Unless you are writing lots of very short/cheap books, the terms there can be much more lucrative (assuming Kindle Unlimited borrow rates do indeed come out at around $2 – which is still an open question).

However there’s a flipside to that. There’s no way in hell that the terms that Oyster and Scribd are offering are sustainable. Obviously, both companies are happy to eat the losses today in exchange for market share tomorrow, but those compensation terms will have to deteriorate at some point. The only question is how much. I have issues with Amazon’s compensation model – I hate the fixed pool on principle, and I don’t like not knowing what I’ll be paid in exchange for my work – but it’s definitely more sustainable.

Link to the rest at David Gaugran and thanks to Donna for the tip.

Writer’s Digest Dumps Author Solutions

23 June 2014

From David Gaughran:

I have some huge news: Writer’s Digest has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.

Abbott Press – the imprint launched by Writer’s Digest, parent company F+W Media, and white-label vanity press provider Author Solutions – is still operational, but all ties to Writer’s Digest have been cut.

It appears that Abbott Press will now be run directly as yet another Author Solutions brand but Writer’s Digest and F+W Media will have no further connection with it.

. . . .

Writer’s Digest and F+W Media refuse to comment, despite being given several opportunities, but I’ve had this news confirmed by multiple sources. As Author Solutions only tends to allow early termination of partnership agreements if the partner signs a series of non-disclosure agreements, a formal announcement or comment is unlikely.

However, it’s clear from the websites of Writer’s Digest and Abbott Press that all links between the companies are in the process of being severed.

. . . .

Author Solutions aggressively pursues strategic partnerships to lend credibility to its scammy practices. More importantly, these partners help keep the pipeline of email addresses and phone numbers flowing. As I detailed two weeks ago, Author Solutions needs huge numbers of leads because it only converts 5% of queries into customers.

Author Solutions first floated a partnership in 2010, but Jane Friedman – then publisher of Writer’s Digest – was unhappy with the idea and the direction the company was taking in general, and resigned.

. . . .

This is a huge partner for Author Solutions to lose – the biggest so far by some stretch.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

Who’s Afraid of Very Cheap Books?

10 June 2014

From David Gaughran:

A common meme in publishing is that cheap books are destroying the world or literature, and that low prices are undermining the viability of publishing or writers’ ability to make a living.

I’ve long thought this position is nonsense – a narrative which plays on misplaced fears of change and a confusion of price and value, which is also based on flawed assumptions and analog, zero-sum thinking.

. . . .

Self-publishers are fond of 99c pricing for a number of reasons. It’s the lowest price you can set at Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo without making your book free, and it has an obvious impulse buy appeal to readers. This price point is particularly popular for the first in a series or a limited-time sale in conjunction with an ad spot, but some have used it more aggressively.

I launched my latest novel Mercenary at 99c (logic here) but plan to raise it to $4.99 this week.

. . . .

1. 99c doesn’t devalue books. How could it? Readers love cheap books! Do libraries devalue books? What about cheap paperback classics? Second-hand bookstores? Friends sharing books? All of these things encourage reading. Books reducing in price is a wonderful phenomenon that should be encouraged and celebrated. Unless you want reading to be a minority sport for the (shrinking) middle class.

2. A writer has a duty to herself and no one else. She shouldn’t have to make decisions for the good of the “industry.” What does Penguin Random House care for the average writer? Does it care if its decisions impact upon the ability of self-publishers to earn a living? Hell, no. Cheap pricing is a wonderful tool when used correctly and can greatly expand an author’s readership (and income).

3. Cheap books expand the pool of readers which safeguards the industry’s long-term health and makes writing as a profession more viable as a result. Self-publishers don’t have to pay for office blocks, printers, binding, storage, distribution. In a digital world, there are fewer up-front costs and far less ongoing costs. Why shouldn’t we pass on some of those savings? Let’s not forget that readers have been screwed by higher prices from large publishers since the consolidation wave of the 1990s.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Visible and thanks to SFR for the tip.

The Case Against Author Solutions, Part 1: The Numbers

4 June 2014

From David Gaughran:

The more you study an operation like Author Solutions, the more it resembles a two-bit internet scam, except on a colossal scale.

Internet scammers work on percentages. They know that only a tiny fraction of people will get hoodwinked so they flood the world’s inboxes with spammy junk.

While reputable self-publishing services can rely on author referrals and word-of-mouth, Author Solutions is forced to take a different approach. According to figures released by Author Solutions itself when it was looking for a buyer in 2012, it spent a whopping $11.9m on customer acquisition in 2011 alone.

This money is spent on:

  • Paying bloggers, websites, and companies a “bounty” based on how many writers they can deliver to Author Solutions.
  • Buying a huge presence at writers’ events such as the Toronto Word on the Street Festival the Miami Book Fair International, and the LA Times Festival of Books.
  • Setting up a whole string of misleading websites which purport to offer independent self-publishing advice, but which actually only recommend Author Solutions companies (such as iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and Trafford).
  • Lots and lots of advertising, particularly Google AdWords ads, to drive inexperienced writers towards these deceptive websites, as well as SEO to push down critical voices.
  • Setting up fake social media profiles of people claiming to be independent publishing consultants… who only recommend Author Solutions companies.
  • Spambots – because the world needed more of them.

. . . .

Some complain that prospective customers of Author Solutions should do more research –caveat emptor and all that. This is a little unfair for three reasons.

  1. The deceptive practices outlined above.
  2. Author Solutions keeps launching new brands (20 at last count) with similar prices and practices, but without the internet baggage. This makes a mockery of Author Solutions CEO Andrew Phillips’ recent claim that “we are not trying to deliberately confuse anybody”.
  3. Finally, it appears that most prospective customers do actually research the company thoroughly and step away. Out of the 475,000 leads, Author Solutions only converted approximately 5% into customers.

. . . .

Author Solutions also needs to aggressively pursue new business because its existing customers don’t come back for more. According to figures released by CEO Andrew Phillips, Author Solutions and its subsidiaries have published 225,000 titles by 180,000 authors – an average of 1.25 titles per author. The lack of repeat business is in stark contrast to someone like Smashwords which has 310,168 titles from approximately 80,000 authors – an average of around 3.88 per author.

. . . .

Author Solutions sold 27,500 publishing packages in 2011 and, in the information sent out to attract a buyer in 2012, Author Solutions forecasted that the number of publishing packages sold to authors would increase to 30,700 in 2012, and to a staggering 49,015 in 2015.

These packages are widely considered to be massively overpriced compared to competing services but where Author Solutions really makes its money is in aggressively upselling a range of additional services to authors – not included in those expensive packages they first purchase. Most packages don’t even include editing, and this is the first area where sales consultants try and hit their internal targets (claimed in the class action to be $5,000 per customer).

When these sales consultants contact authors, they invariably claim they are calling from Bloomington, Indiana. I should note however that approximately 78% of its staff is actually based in Cebu, Philippines – including the sales and marketing departments. The actual location of Author Solutions staff is important for a number of reasons, not least ascertaining the English ability and editing qualifications of staff working on these books.

. . . .

Penguin [decided] to purchase the company for $116m in July 2012. At the time, the writing community expressed shock at that move, given Author Solutions’ well-known history, and the long-standing warnings from watchdog bodies like Writer Beware.

Some expressed hope that Penguin would clean house, but all it has done is aggressively expand Author Solutions’ operations, with new imprints targeting Spain, Malaysia, India, and South Africa, as well as new white-label self-publishing services for huge companies like Simon & Schuster.

It was clear that Penguin knew exactly what it was purchasing. Companies don’t splash out $116m without doing a thorough check. John Makinson (Chairman and CEO of Penguin at the time), when announcing the purchase said, “We’re looking to upsize not downsize. There are no plans for layoffs, this is an opportunity for growth.”

Penguin’s name also lends credibility to Author Solutions, and its sales consultants have dangled the prospect of Penguin picking up customers’ books. One writer who published with Xlibris (an Author Solutions company) relayed the following:

They told me that with Penguin buying them they could, basically, guarantee that Penguin would look at my book and because it was so good (she’d read the first couple of pages) they would definitely pick it up.

Needless to say, Penguin did no such thing.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Visible

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